A Win-Win: Can a Green Energy Source Stop Natural Disasters?

Martina Sly
December 16, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Wind Farm in Denmark. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Green energy and natural disasters are two widely talked about subjects that our world has the opportunity to fix or alleviate, but currently does not. Our worldly energy usage according to BP was 13.3 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in 2016, and it continues to grow as developing nations are industrializing. [1] As our oil and coal reserves are being overused, we must look to more sustainable energy sources like wind Power. Wind power is far greener than either oil or coal burning, making it an obvious choice for advancement. In the recent events of Irma, Jose, and Harvey, hurricanes have gained the national and even worldwide spotlight. However, hurricanes have wreaked havoc on people for far longer, and with no foreseeable end, investment into hurricane protection is a vital asset to the world. One implementation could help mitigate both problems.

Wind Power

Humans have been utilizing wind power for thousands of years. We have evolved from the basic windmill into complex machines creating electricity through turning an electric generator. Wind power is generated from wind turbines, as seen in Fig. 1. Offshore wind power is especially intriguing. As the energy from a wind turbine is related the velocity of wind cubed, it is especially important to find locations with high wind velocities. It is also important that the wind is relatively stable and constant, as backup generators do not need to be as large under these conditions in case the wind stops. The ocean provides an ideal location for these criteria. Additionally, the noise of the farms will not affect people, and fewer birds will die from these plants. Offshore wind development has already had a long history, with the first project being installed in Denmark in 1991. Projects are still being built today as the number of offshore wind farms keeps growing. Overall, wind energy has been starting to gain traction and take hold in America's quest for renewables and the offshore platform has paved the way for the future.

How Can Wind Turbines Stop Hurricanes?

In addition to the electricity provided by the plant, the turbines themselves prove to be excellent hurricane disruptors. In a study performed by Jacobson et al., it was found that large turbine arrays (300+ GW installed capacity) may diminish peak near-surface hurricane wind speeds by 2541 m/sec (5692 mph) and storm surge by 679%. [3] Offshore wind turbine arrays reduced storm surge by up to 34% for Sandy and 79% for Katrina. As the hurricane approaches, the outer winds are pushing the turbines at incredible speeds, generating lots of electricity, but also reducing the velocity of the wind. As these outer wind speeds slow down, the hurricane becomes disrupted and loses core speed as well, therefore reducing the impact of the hurricane. [2] While these might be expensive, it can be argued that the turbines will pay for themselves through the revenue of electricity sales. It is also a better alternative to other forms of hurricane and storm surge deterrents such as storm walls that cost billions and provide no future benefits.


While the idea of a forest of wind turbines powering and protecting America and other countries seems far away, it could actually come into fruition. The vast benefits of such a system would outweigh the costs associated as we switch from carbon based fuels to renewables. This could be a win-win that could not only save the future of our fossil fuels, but could potentially save some people from the devastating hurricanes that destroy many cities near the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

© Martina Sly. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017," British Petroleum. June 2017.

[2] M. Fischetti, "Offshore Wind Farms Could Knock Down Hurricanes," Scientific American, 26 Feb 14.

[3] M. Z. Jacobson, C. L. Archer, and W. Kempton, "Taming Hurricanes With Arrays of Offshore Wind Turbines," Nat. Clim. Change 4, 195 (2014).